This weekend, the Leadville Race Series hosted a 50 mile bike race on Saturday and a 50 mile run on Sunday. We had signed up to volunteer so that we could be part of the fun while saving our legs for an upcoming 50k on August 3rd. As the weekend approached we realized that we had overbooked ourselves. We moved to a new apartment on Monday/Tuesday and worked 9-10 hour days the rest of the week and on Saturday. I tried to squeeze a 20 mile run and 15 mile bike ride in before work on Friday and I started getting the sickness that Cory had just fought off.
Nevertheless we dragged ourselves out of bed at 4am on Sunday and our roommate/cousin came along to witness his first ultramarathon. When we arrived at our assigned aid station - the Rock Garden - we were rewarded with amazing views. Mayla frolicked around unleashed as we waited for other volunteers to arrive. Next to drive up the dirt road was Pat Chlouber, full of energy and ready to rock the day. After introducing herself in her southern-tinged accent, she proceeded to feed Mayla half of her croissant. Mayla was in love.
Words to describe Pat: Go-getter, feisty-when necessary, approachable, knows what she wants. The scene at the aid station location was a mess. Apparently no one had cleaned up after the bike race the previous day. Pat gets on her phone and gets things done. Soon people arrive with all of the stuff about 45 minutes before the leader was supposed to arrive. And man, did this woman have vision. The Leadville race series is in her blood. I didn't know much about the Chloubers beyond this video. Watch it, it's pretty great.
Originally from Oklahoma, Pat and her husband, Ken, moved to Denver. They loved it and lived in Lakewood for a while. Eventually they ended up in Leadville and they have been there for a long time. In 1983 Ken co-founded the Leadville 100, coined "The Race Across the Sky." Later in the day, Ken told me that the race had been founded when the town was in bad economic times. As they thought about starting the race, Ken said the only way that he would do it is if the race started and finished in Leadville in order to bring people to the town. If you were to ever meet Ken, you would immediately recognize that he is the kind of guy that does what he wants without caring about what other people think. And I think that's a good thing. Well, Pat's a strong enough woman to match that.
So back to the Rock Garden Aid station. The first runner arrived at the aid station (mile 18) as expected and ran through without stopping. He kept a noticeable lead on the field for the whole race. The first two women, Leila Degrave and Helen Cospolich, rolled through neck-and-neck and the two women were miles ahead of the rest of the field. Soon larger groups of people started coming in and a few guys wanted to drop out. You should have seen Pat try to convince them to keep going. I'm not sure who said it, if it was Pat or another volunteer, but I quote, "In Ken's opinion it would be better to die out here on the course than to quit."
You get such a different experience from volunteering over racing. When you race, you only get to talk to the people around you, but when you volunteer you get to talk to everyone. The people who roll through saying, "Just water," (people like me); they are no fun. The people that hang out without a care in the world; they are the best.
Take Charles Corfield, for example. In the 50-59 age group I must say that he stuck out like a sore thumb, but not for the reasons you'd expect.When he rolled in at mile 18 inbound in the top 20 he looked so strong and relaxed, but on the way back he somehow managed to look even stronger! After looking at his splits, his last 25 miles were only 10 minutes slower than his first 25 miles! At the aid station Cory offered to fill up his bottle, but he said that he makes his own drink mix combining Gatorade powder with Maltodextrin. I think I'm going to have to try that sometime.
Charles Corfield accepting his award.
Photo: Leadville Race Series
Then there was the French-man. I never got his name, but he was hilarious. He stuck around the aid station inbound for at least 10 minutes talking and joking with people. Asking about the foods, asking about the weather, asking about, well, everything there was to ask about. We pretty much had to kick him out for fear that he was going to go from racer to aid station volunteer, but we looked forward to seeing him again at mile 30.
There were also the flirts. The guys that came in with their pick-up lines planned. I would ask "What can I get for you?" and they would say something like, "I don't need anything else besides your beautiful smile." It was especially funny when, little did they know, they had a huge, mis-aimed snot-rocket stuck to their face/beard/shirt. And with the hail and torrential downpours that plagued the day, there were a lot of snot-rocket remains stuck to people.
Most notably, though, there was Mike Aish. He won last year and hoped to be a contender at the 100 miler, only to end up with a DNF. Since then, he's had some other great performances, so one would assume he would be attempting to defend his title from last year. Instead he rolls in outbound at mile 30 in about fifth place and stays to talk to us all for 5-10 minutes like there wasn't a race going on at all. It was as if he didn't even notice the three or four people go by. As he stood around drinking an entire can of Coke, he told Cory that he had done 30 miles around Hope Pass the previous day! It seemed he was trying to purely focus on getting some good training in for the 100 miler. Then he went on to pass all of those people and finish in fourth place!
Mike Aish looking fresh at the finish.
Photo: Leadville Race Series
Later in the afternoon as the rain came pouring down, Pat said she had to go. She told me that we had been the perfect volunteers and that if we needed anything Ken was there. She pointed to Ken sitting in the rain on his ATV in a bright yellow plastic poncho and rain pants, saying "He's wearing his mountain canary outfit." It was going to be a fun last few hours.
After the sun finally came out, Ken told me more about the 100 miler and pointed out Hope Pass off in the distance. He told me that he married Pat when they were teenagers and that it hadn't always been the most romantic love, but that it had been a "great partnership." He told me that he had put Pat through a lot, and when I said that she seems to enjoy Leadville and that she said she escapes to California for warmth in the winters, it became clear that he's just the kind of guy who wants to do more for the people he cares about most.
On a less serious note, Cory talked to him a bit about the history of the 100 miler and Ken said that the first time a runner asked for a comp entry, he thought that that was the most arrogant thing in the world. He talked about runners that were nice and runners that he didn't want to let in because of how he perceived their attitude. Then Cory mentioned that Scott Jurek was planning to do the 100 this year, and Ken definitely had something to say about that! Ken is a cowboy who loves his meat and after reading Scott's book, Ken has a category for vegetarians and vegans. I'll let you fill in the blanks. Somehow from this book Ken also had drawn the conclusion that Scott is a jerk. Cory told him with a chuckle that he had personally met Scott and that he was incredibly nice, but Ken had made up his mind. Scott's got some work to do...
Finally the last few people started coming through. We were out of pretty much everything and these people had one hour to make the cut-off in 4.5 miles. One younger girl came through and had been struggling through back issues the whole race. She REALLY wanted to keep going but Ken stopped her and said, "There's not a chance in the world that you are going to make it, sweetheart. Even if you were my own daughter I would tell you to call it a day." Somehow instead of consoling her she came came back with the reply, "If a person can walk 3 miles in hour I can make it." We didn't have the heart to tell her that her math didn't add up and I think Ken respected her more for her resolve to go on.
We unceremoniously packed up and went home. I definitely want to run the race next year.
Beautiful view on a stormy day.
Photo: Leadville Race Series